MLB Network Extends Programming, Studio Footprint in Time for Opening Day

Now in its seventh season, MLB Network continues to expand by leaps and bounds, creating additional regular-season programming and building a state-of-the-art studio space to satisfy Major League Baseball’s insatiable fan base. And after a particularly grueling winter, baseball fans were certainly ready for the season to begin.

On Opening Day, MLB Network debuted its first-ever regular-season morning show, MLB Central, which originates from the network’s brand-new Studio 21.

Airing live every weekday morning, MLB Central is hosted by Matt Vasgersian, Mark DeRosa, and Lauren Shehadi and will feature the latest news, extensive on-field highlights, and long-form conversation with guests, celebrities, and insiders from around the league.

A 14 x 25-ft. LED wall inside Studio 21

A 14 x 25-ft. LED wall inside Studio 21

“We have a goal of continuing to grow to MLB Network and add to our live programming,” says Susan Stone, SVP, operations, MLB Network. “We have a new morning show called MLB Central. We didn’t have a home for it. Not only that, some of our other shows were sharing studio spaces; it was getting to be very logistically difficult to accommodate all of these shows in the same space. So that’s where we came up with the idea of building a new studio.”

Before embarking on the ambitious Studio 21 project, MLB Network had previously found success in repurposing areas of its Secaucus, NJ, headquarters for new studio spaces: most notably, converting the balcony area of Studio 3 into a dedicated social-media area and transforming a mailroom/storage cage into Studio K in 2012.

Studio 21, named for Hall of Famer and humanitarian Roberto Clemente, is quite the departure from previously repurposed studio spaces; it’s in an entirely new building. The long-term lease on the 40,000-sq.-ft. warehouse next door became available and was taken over by MLB Network with the intent to build new studio space, additional office space, and other facilities.

The 8,000-sq.-ft. Studio 21 was built with five multicamera positions to accommodate three daily studio shows: MLB Central, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET Monday-Friday; MLB Now, 4-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; and Quick Pitch, a nightly recap show airing seven days a week. In addition to three distinct operating areas for each show, a “courtyard area” and a “bowtie area” serve as the studio’s fourth and fifth operating areas. The studio can also accommodate a number of additional standup locations.

Working with Showman Fabricators, MLB Network created unique “flying banners” that can be moved simultaneously.

Working with Showman Fabricators, MLB Network created unique “flying banners” that can be moved simultaneously.

MLB Network worked with set designer Clickspring Design, including lead designer Bryan Higgason, and set fabricator blackwalnut to create the look of Studio 21. The Systems Group provided broadcast integration, CP Communications handled audio, and Lighting Design Group tackled lighting design and installation of 540 energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures. AVDS provided all on-set–display technology, and Showman Fabricators created the studio’s robotic flying banners.

Studio 21 features more than 1,100 12- x 16-in. LED tiles installed in different configurations for a total of 1,400 sq. ft. of wall displays. The robotic “flying banners” were created by hanging 14 back-to-back 55-in. monitors on cables suspended from the ceiling and able to be rotated, raised, and lowered.

Rather than construct a second control room in the new building, MLB Network opted to run 88 miles of cable and countless fiber links to connect the two facilities. More than 2 miles of power cable and 2 miles of data cable run throughout the new studio.

To broadcast the three studio shows from Studio 21, MLB Network will use three Sony studio cameras mounted on pedestals, a Steadicam, and a jib. One main, moveable desk will serve MLB Now.

LED displays measuring approximately (from left) 12 x 17 ft., 12 x 22 ft., and 12 x 17 ft.

LED displays measuring approximately (from left) 12 x 17 ft., 12 x 22 ft., and 12 x 17 ft.

MLB Network worked with Orad, Reality Check Systems, Big Studios, and Motion Path to design a combination of augmented-reality graphics and what the network is terming “extended-studio perception,” which refers to pieces of the set that act as windows with large LED displays behind the scenery.

“We plan to enhance depth by putting images in the displays that ‘extend’ the set, such as ballpark interiors, exteriors, or other outdoor/indoor images,” explains Mark Haden, VP, engineering and IT, MLB Network. “These LED walls will track the jib’s movement in a specially correct way. … The perception is that we are inside a space with a breathtaking view; the studio appears gigantic.”

Completing the studio was no easy feat. The warehouse wasn’t available until July 2014, and construction on the studio couldn’t start until January 2015.

“We didn’t even get a studio handed over to us to start installing the set, lights, monitoring equipment until the second week in January,” explains Stone. “It was a warehouse, and we had to totally gut and start from scratch to make this an office environment and a studio. Two months and one week later, we’re ready for Opening Day. It’s really a miracle.”

All photos courtesy of MLB Network.

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